When the Astros were punished by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred for their sign-stealing scheme during and beyond their championship season of 2017, it seemed only a matter of time before similar consequences made their way to Boston. MLB recently launched a probe of the Red Sox's alleged sign-stealing during their championship season of 2018.
Manfred in his statement regarding the Houston sanctions said resolution is forthcoming on that front. Sox brass, though, preempted matters by firing manager Alex Cora on Tuesday evening.
Cora was the bench coach for the Astros in 2017, and to hear MLB's investigation tell it he was central to their sign-stealing efforts in both design and execution. Soon after he helped the Astros to the title -- helped more than anyone outside the clubhouse knew at the time -- he was named manager of the Red Sox.
You know the first part of the story arc. Cora, with a mix of tactical acumen and the human skills common to the best managers, guided the Red Sox to 108 wins, a franchise record, and an 11-3 mark in the postseason despite a gauntlet of a playoff slate. In the end, Cora became just the fifth rookie manager to win the World Series and finished only one shy of Ralph Houk's record for most wins by a rookie manager.
Some of the shine came off last season, as the Red Sox despite a top-tier payroll slipped back to 84 wins and third place and missed the postseason. Cora, though, survived those disappointments. He was poised to manage the team again in 2020 even after the dismissal of Dave Dombrowski, the man who hired Cora, and the hiring of new GM Chaim Bloom away from the Rays. A similarly discouraging 2020 likely would've cost Cora his job, and that would've indeed been a possible outcome given the apparent new age of "fiscal discipline" in Boston.
Even so, the 44-year-old, thanks to his championship success as a debutante manager and his youth relative to most of his guild, likely would've had another shot in the dugout after a period of exile as someone's bench coach. Now, though, that will likely never happen.
Cora's out of a job, yes, but Manfred will likely drop a stronger hammer on him at some point soon. Cora's name appears 11 times in Manfred's Astros report. As noted, he's the common element in both scandals, and he played a material role in Houston's efforts (and presumably Boston's). On top of all that, Boston's alleged scheme took place after the league issued a memo flatly declaring that the video replay room may not be used for sign-stealing.
With Houston, Manfred suspended manager A.J. Hinch, who was fired shortly after, for a full season despite the fact that he "neither devised the banging scheme nor participated in it." Those words are found in Manfred's report. Now consider the case of Cora, who not only was much more entangled in the Astros' sign-stealing than Hinch was but also went on to manage another team that undertook a scheme of their own that was in violation of the rules. You can argue that no one has done more to undermine MLB's competitive integrity in recent years than Cora has -- he's helped undermine the results of two of the last three World Series.
All of this is to say, Cora's in for a much stiffer penalty than Hinch. Speculation, some of it formed, even has it that a lifetime ban is in play. At the very least, Cora will be suspended for multiple seasons and carry with him a sullied reputation. Maybe that's not fair, given that the Astros and Red Sox are surely not the only teams using banned means to steal signs, but it's the reality. Even if Manfred doesn't end Cora's managerial career, the lingering effects of these controversies may. Maybe time and tide and public contrition will allow Cora to number among uniformed personnel again, but it's hard to imagine any team making him a manager again, even if the league allows it.
After 108 wins and his two hands on the trophy not so long ago, no one would've guessed such a swift end to Cora's managerial career. But that's likely what's going to happen.